I’ll be frank; I don’t have one Christmas memory that resonates with me. Instead, I have a variety of Steffen traditions and annual occurrences that I think of when I think about Christmas. My Christmas memories in Connecticut can be described as childhood days dreaming of snow days, sledding in my front yard, falling asleep on the floor with the dogs in front of the fireplace, making sugar cookies for Santa even after I stopped believing, going to a Christmas tree farm to pick out and cut down a tree, and watching my Dad select seasonal varieties on the jukebox, like Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, while my Mom and I decorated the house and tree with miniature winter villages and delicate, antique ornaments.
Christmas Memories Indoors
My Mom always made sure that the house felt like Christmas in December. The boxes of decorations would start coming downstairs after Thanksgiving and one day after school, I would come home and it really would begin to look a lot like Christmas. In the front hallway, she’d set up the "Department 56" corner village scenery. Every year it was arranged differently, but the animated ice skating rink and sledding hill were almost always in the front of the house as the main attractions. I remember being so fascinated watching the magnetic figurines move across the rink in their predetermined patterns clearly outlined but fascinating nonetheless. I liked moving them around so they could skate on different pathways testing the capability of the magnets and their timing. Sometimes I would help my mom put the village up and decide who would live where for the next month and a half. I would strategically position my favorites, like the little girl and her dog, which I picked out at the annual Steffen tradition, where we added to the village.
Every year, we would head to the Christmas shop and I would walk around looking at the variety of village themes set up all around the store before settling on my choice. Each year I could see that selection come to life in a Christmas magical spirit as they were made right at home somewhere in the village scene. After the village was set up, wreathes, Christmas lights, bows, and Christian-inspired scenes would follow suit, taking up residence at various parts of the house and property. Decorating the tree would always come last, on Christmas Eve night, so that it laid bare for most of the month but received daily fixes of sugar water.
Sometime prior to Christmas Eve my Mom and I would make sugar cookies. This might not sound like anything special, but the best part of the cookie making process was customizing the ones for Santa. The cookies always had to look fashion forward with a little sass; take the snowman, looking way better than Frosty ever did, with a sparkly scarf and candy cane shoes or the sleigh with some bling cinnamon dots and trim of vanilla icing. Even after I stopped believing in Santa, we continued making sugar cookies and the only difference was that we would get to eat all of them.
Christmas Memories Outdoors
In Connecticut we had a unique driveway with a sharp curve mirroring the winding country roads of West Redding. Our driveway was steep and shaped like a horseshoe. The significantly steep incline continued up past the edge of our driveway all the way up the front yard hill to the neighbor's property line. As you can imagine all it takes is 3 feet of snow and a freeze overnight to become a dream sledding hill. Then, after a large snowstorm, I can remember turning on the radio around 11:00pm and listening for which schools were closed the following day. As they listed the schools in alphabetical order, I’d sit on the stairs by our front entrance looking out the window, watching the snowplow that would also come around 11:00pm to create those perfect mounds around the border at the peak of the driveway. The school list seemed to take hours and then the moment came . . . Landmark Academy . . . CLOSED! I remember pitying the poor fools who only had a 30-minute or one-hour delay. Suckers! A snow day meant sleeping in until around 10:30am, waking up, eating breakfast, getting dressed in cold weather clothes and snow gear and heading out for a day of nonstop fun. The three dogs and I would spend all day outside. Poor Mandy, our English Springer Spaniel, was usually too short to be able to comfortably walk in the snow so she’d hop her way through and tunnel from the front door to the driveway. I would head straight for the garage to grab my favorite sled, the flexible flying carpet, because boy would I fly!
I trudged my way to the top of the hill, got set up and would slide down. The first time always sucked because you had to forge new territory and create the sled path. But by the third time down the hill, I would fly past, just a flash of pink. And now I’ll tell you the true value prop of snowplowing our driveway. Those mounds they built by pushing the snow up the driveway made really awesome speed bumps to catch some air off of.
After a solid morning and afternoon sledding and building snow castles, the dogs and I would head inside for some hot cocoa by one of the two fireplaces my Mom constantly had going in the winter time. Our 3 dogs all had fringed fur and snowballs would accumulate on their fur. As we four lay in front of the fireplace, the snow would melt off the dogs and I would drift off to sleep listening to seasonal records playing on the jukebox.
Time would fly and the tree-trimming eve would come all too soon. It was a picture perfect winter sight with snow softly falling in the background, and Frank Loesser’s, Baby It’s Cold Outside, playing on the jukebox as my dad flipped through the catalog, feeding dimes, and punching in codes to queue up all the best holiday records. The ornaments would make their way around onto all the branches with zero discrimination between the clay baked, handmade, painted ones and the fragile, antique beauties. And once every ornament, string of garland, and string of lights covered every inch of the tree, it was usually close to my bedtime. I can still remember that feeling of being unable to fall asleep as the excitement built up inside with anticipation knowing Christmas Day was only a few hours away. Fighting sleep as long as possible, but always losing the battle. I would drift away only to return and awake to the special experience and surprises Christmas Day provided the Steffen family in Connecticut.